Monday, January 25, 2010

Lessons of Perspective

I was going to write about my Buddhist sewing class tonight. We all had our troubles. Some (like myself) had to redo lines of stitches because the corner was folded the wrong way. Another one of us cut through his fabric trying to trim an edge. In the next room, a seasoned sewer was trying to hold down a ruler on some slick silk. And our dear teacher was feeling so bad she could neither stand or sit. If the world was in a state of unrest and havoc, then CNN could have covered our epoch in Austin.

So I came home and heated up some soup for dinner.... and started watching CNN's great coverage of the devastation of Haiti. Suddenly our sewing troubles disappeared. We live in a society with a semblance of order. I know where I'll sleep tonight, and know that I'll have good food tomorrow. I realize how fortunate I am to have the luxury to be able to fret about such little things as a few stitches in the wrong place.

I remember as a kid learning about miles, and then light years. Suddenly the mile (made up of countless inches) was diminished to a mere inch when compared to a light year. Haiti teaches us that our most severe problems don't even challenge what that poor country has endured. And that poor country is not alone in this world.

Tomorrow the pest control man is going to come to our house. In an effort to save my artwork from the hungry mouths of insects, their world will become toxic tomorrow. Another Port-au-Prince in the walls of my house.

I tell myself "tragedy dissipates." The last earthquake of this magnitude in Haiti was in the 18th century and 300 years later it was almost forgotten. Another tragedy will come and we'll shift our compassion to another location.

I wonder how to end this post on a positive note. Was it funny to be worried because we sewed a crooked line that was supposed to be straight? And how much shame should we feel when we are bent out of shape with such little things? How much gratitude should be feel because we can engage in such trivial pursuits? And how much gratitude to be surrounded with these lessons of perspective?

(The sewing is a Buddhist Rokasu, designed by the Buddha when he was asked what a robe should look like. He pointed to a rice field and said, "that." It would have been easier if he had pointed to field of snow... but do we really want things easier? Oh, the red material with the white stars is not part of the package. It just keeps her clean!)


Jeff said...

Nice post Kim. It is amazing that while our situation in the states is much less dire (in regards to basic needs), it still presents so many opportunities for practice. Having our basic needs met is crucial for having the energy to put into a spiritual practice and yet still we find so many ways to make ourselves suffer.

There is a tendency to beat ourselves up since others are in such worse situations. But our very practice in this moment is connected to their practice. Our breath to their breath. This doesn't provide an excuse to avoid compassionate action in regards to Haiti - in fact it is what creates the moral imperative to do so...

Kate Freeman said...

I heard a Haitian woman in an interview say that she didn’t feel she could really complain. Only the back wall collapsed on her home and she still had a car to sleep in. . . Other people had suffered much greater loses.

Paula Gable said...

Jesus said, "The poor will always be with us." ... Yet, he also encouraged us to help the poor and follow the way (a reinterpretation of his "original words, I admit.") I did not hear this as a dismissal of the downtrodden, only the realization that "the nature of life is suffering." The responsibility of those who are better off is to help those who aren't. Good thing this level of catastrophe in Haiti is not happening to everyone, all at once, or there would only be the sick and homeless and bereaved. Then who could help out? The sewing helps to put things in focus and proportion - and to realize how "silly" all of our worrying and planning is, if we become attached to it. For, in an instant, our comfy little world could turn Haiti-like. That's when we will be most challenged to respond in the same level-headed way that we cultivate through years of mindfulness practice such as sitting, sewing, etc.

Who's in the world?

Xiushan said, "What can you do about the world?" Dizang said, "What do you call the world?"